During my first safety position out of graduate school, I was in a long discussion regarding what I enjoyed most – my passions in life. My first boss initiated a conversation about family, friends, and what my life was like growing up. Eventually we talked about my childhood desire to play professional baseball. That dream didn’t come to fruition, but my boss challenged me. My boss challenged me to be the best safety professional I could be, and I’ll never forget that occasion.
Denver Graham’s words still resonate today. For the past 30 years, I’ve been driven to be the best and do the best I can – in nearly any context, personally and professionally. Along the way, I’ve discovered various dimensions of growth that have helped me succeed. I want to pass them on, and share them, so they might help you; and you might also share the same or similar thoughts with others. Here’s a short list of four areas that might help you and others:
Wanting to better understand the “underpinnings of EHS” is the foundation of personal and professional growth. Better understanding the arts and sciences that support our profession is necessary – leadership, organizational psychology and social influence, human factors and related work, and the list goes on.
Individuals who want to continually grow as a professional must deliberately expand their base of knowledge. Expanding one’s knowledge by reading and through formal and informal means is important. It’s sad when I hear people who complete some type of formal education state that they “never have to open a book again.” For me, I can’t wait to open my next book or journal article. I can’t wait to do more research that helps me become a better professional. The journey of our educational advancement should never end – our curiosity drives our growth and keeps us energized and excited.
You’ve heard it before, but passion really is contagious – it is, it is, and it is! Have you ever observed how one person, one leader or one individual, can affect the mood or energy of an entire group? The excitement and enthusiasm of a leader can pick a group up or bring them down. And often, groups or teams take on the personality of their leader.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be around positive, upbeat people. In fact, I want to be one of those positive and energetic people! An individual’s personality and energy create a positive climate that makes work better, and at times, even makes work fun and more enjoyable. Ultimately, passion creates a more productive environment in which we can insert safety as a central part of the theme.
No matter our level of experience, we should strive to improve our credibility. From a psychological perspective, credibility is a two-part word which consists of our expertise and the trust we develop with others. If you are strong technically and have a background in the hard sciences and systems-related work, continue to strengthen your strengths. If you’re comparatively weaker in other areas such as the social sciences, work hard to learn more and to apply what you’re learning.
When we develop our expertise and build strong and lasting relationships within our organizations, we are better viewed as an important member. More importantly, what we say and do will be listened to, and acted upon where necessary, because we’ve developed both our expertise and trust.
Over 20 years ago, I discovered the writings of Robert Greenleaf that pertain to servant leadership. It took me a while to discover who I was as a leader, and the characteristics I wanted to embrace, but this was it. Servant leadership fit my personality and most of the organizations I have worked with over the length of my career.
As safety professionals, we should incorporate a particular leadership model and practice into our everyday efforts – one we can refine and articulate. We should continually learn more about leadership, while modeling and sharing specific principles we feel most strongly about (with our colleagues). We should also want to serve others to help make them the best they can be, personally and professionally.
Safety professionals and practitioners are the keys to initiating, pivoting, and driving positive organizational change through others. Granted, safety professionals aren’t always in a position of power and authority with a corresponding title, rank, position and budget to make substantial change happen, directly. However, if we work on these four dimensions of potential growth, we will better connect with others — and influence the hearts and minds of leaders who do have the type of positional power and authority to help us drive significant and substantial change.
Robert Greenleaf once stated, “The first and most important choice a leader makes is the choice to serve, without which one’s capacity to lead is severely limited.”
Be the best you can be. Strive to leave a legacy of serving and helping others, so they can better help themselves.